Peer Support Among Individuals with Severe Mental Illness

A Review of the Evidence

Published in: Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, v. 6, no. 2, Summer 1999, p. 165-187

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1999

by Larry Davidson, Matthew Chinman, Bret Kloos, Richard Weingarten, David A. Stayner, Jacob Kraemer Tebes

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This article reviews the history and potential effectiveness of peer support among persons with severe mental illness. Following a historical overview, we describe the three primary forms of peer support that have been developed to date by and for this population, and examine the existing empirical evidence of the feasibility, effectiveness, and utilization of each of these approaches in contributing to the recovery of individuals with psychiatric disabilities. These three forms are (1) naturally occurring mutual support groups, (2) consumer-run services, and (3) the employment of consumers as providers within clinical and rehabilitative settings. Existing studies of mutual support groups suggest that they may improve symptoms, promote larger social networks, and enhance quality of life. This research is largely from uncontrolled studies, however, and will need to be evaluated further using prospective, controlled designs. Consumer-run services and the use of consumers as providers promise to broaden the access of individuals with psychiatric disabilities to peer support, but research on these more recent developments is only preliminary and largely limited to demonstrations of their feasibility. We discuss issues entailed in participating in peer support for this population, and then close with a discussion of the implications for future policy, research, and practice.

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